Diseases Spread by Ticks
Diseases spread by ticks are among the most common travel-related illnesses. Often overlooked, these diseases are frequently seen in travelers returning from safaris and other outdoor activities. Preventing tick bites, checking for ticks after being outside, and removing any attached ticks are essential steps in preventing tickborne disease.
Preventing Tick Bites
No vaccine is available in the United States to prevent diseases spread by ticks; however, you can take steps to reduce your risk of getting a tick bite:
- Dress appropriately: wear light-colored clothing, wear long pants and sleeves, tuck in shirts, tuck pants into socks, and wear closed-toe shoes.
- Use insect repellents on the skin that contain ≥20% DEET. (“Natural” products, such as citronella, are not effective.)
- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear, or treat your gear and clothing with permethrin before departure.
- Stay out of tall grass, brush, or heavily wooded areas; walk in the center of hiking trails.
Checking for Ticks
It can take several hours for a tick to attach and begin transmitting the disease, so the sooner the tick can be found and removed, the better. Checking for ticks frequently increases the likelihood of finding a tick before it can transmit the bacteria. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors. Then do a full-body tick check with a handheld or full-length mirror. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair. Examine gear and pets; ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, and then attach to a person later. Last, tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
If you find a tick, use tweezers to grasp it as close to the skin as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth-parts easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
Symptoms of Diseases Spread by Ticks
Common symptoms include:
- Muscle or joint pain
Contact your doctor if you feel seriously ill, especially if you have a fever. Tell your doctor about your travel history, including what countries you visited and what you did there. Be sure to mention if you remember seeing or being bitten by a tick. Keep in mind that symptoms can appear after you return home or while abroad.